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Bird rookeries have different effects on different feeding guilds of herbivores and alter the feeding behavior of a common caterpillar


Aggregations of nesting birds are common in many landscapes and have a broad impact on their surrounding habitat through the nutrient input and disturbance of their guano depositions. Ecological theory makes specific predictions about how disturbances or nutrient pulses will affect the interactions between different trophic levels of organisms. This study dissects the effects of a multi-species bird rookery on plant-herbivore interactions on coast live oak trees (Quercus agrifolia). I found that different feeding guilds of herbivores were affected in opposing directions by the rookery. I observed less chewing damage within the rookery than outside, but more damage from piercing/sucking and galling herbivores within the rookery than outside. To understand why chewing guild herbivores are negatively affected by the environmental impacts of the rookery, I explored the behavioral response of a specialist caterpillar (Phryganidia californica) to various rookery conditions. Bird guano had a direct negative impact on P. californica foraging. P. californica movement was impaired by guano addition to twigs, and caterpillars preferred to eat leaves without guano on them. The rookery also had an indirect negative effect on P. californica foraging, as P. californica preferred clean leaves from forest areas outside of the rookery over clean leaves from within the rookery. This study suggests that while it may be possible to make accurate predictions about the effect of large events (such as rookery formation) on different trophic levels, understanding the response of individual species within that trophic level requires an understanding of aspects of their natural history—such as feeding mode and behavior.

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